· Features

What kind of coach are you? How to identify your career coaching style

In the same way that the best athletes thrive when managed by the perfect coach, outstanding business professionals perform better at work when managed and mentored in a positive and effective way.

Not only does coaching help the efficiency and effectiveness of a team, and therefore overall business performance, it can also be an enormously positive experience for coaches themselves - and an important part of the management role. High quality coaching is therefore a win/win opportunity for senior professionals and their team members.

However, it's not as simple as applying a one-size-fits-all coaching approach. The challenge for HR professionals is to recognise that different coaching styles work best with compatible personalities: a forceful, direct coach is not necessarily going to get the best from shy retiring types.

In a similar fashion, a collaborative, inclusive coach may find themselves being dominated by highly ambitious team members keen to prove their worth.

To help senior professionals get the most out of their coaching relationships, Robert Half put together a guide to the four main types of coaches below including key traits for the coach types. Working with this guide, HR leaders can begin to identify where coaching relationships are going well and where they are in danger of becoming destructive.

Definitive coach

Definitive coaches have take-charge personalities and strong commercial thinking that make them natural leaders in the workplace. Highly competitive and results focused, they play to win, and want their employees to do the same.

Definitive coaches are excellent at setting objectives and set the bar high for the rest of the team. They can quickly take difficult decisions or adapt their strategy to ensure the job gets done to deadline. Staff members know what is expected of them, and they're adept at allocating project roles that play on individuals' strengths.

The downside of the definitive coach is that although they set clear expectations and look for ways to make projects more efficient, they don't always provide enough information about how to achieve their desired outcomes. This is fine for employees who prefer autonomy, but it can be challenging for those who want more direction.

For example, employees may need more help with details and will look to discuss project specifics - they may not be able to follow the 'shorthand' guidance provided by a definitive coach. It's also important to take time to get to know employees on a personal level, and to temper criticism with positive feedback - setting time aside to help employees with their development.

Collaborative coach

A generous coach with excellent listening skills, collaboratives are more than willing to "take one for the team", and spend a great deal of time working to develop those around them. They have a deep understanding of team dynamics and are good at fostering cooperation among diverse groups. They also listen more than they speak and try to lead their team to find their own solutions, rather than telling them what to do.

This style helps staff members build confidence in their abilities and tends to engender a process driven-style with well-established parameters. This can make it challenging when they are coaching staff members who thrive on entering unchartered territory: the tendency may be to play it safe rather than push the boundaries.

A collaborative coach should give employees room to learn from their mistakes and try new things or be open to taking smart risks. They should recognise that it's fine to provide constructive criticism when necessary and rather than giving in to pressure the whole time, take a stand when they know they are right.

Persuader coach

The Persuader is an "ideas person" with creativity to spare who is always willing to help their team brainstorm the next big idea or solution to a problem. They encourage employees to think outside the usual parameters, and can easily adapt to change. If someone comes up with a great idea, they will champion it and play on their strong negotiation skills to take it forward.

They relish innovative ways of thinking and reward their team for breaking new ground, while getting to know their staff personally. While their problem-solving style and passion make them fun to work for, they may take on more than their team can adequately manage, which can lead to employee frustration or even burnout. Persuaders must make sure they provide their teams with sufficient resources to bring good ideas to life.

Persuaders need to stop and think more, working out resources in advance of projects before agreeing to take them on. Good communications are vital: when changing direction, it's vital to let employees know the reason for shifting gears and to be willing to deliver unpopular news when necessary. Persuaders can be guilty of holding personal biases and should try to be 100% objective in their evaluation of employee performance.

Diagnostic coach

This last coaching type run their departments like well-oiled machines: organisation and careful planning are the hallmarks of their style, and employees know what to expect each day. They encourage their teams to update their skills and use critical thinking to create solid business strategies; this comes from their natural problem-solving abilities.

When teams bring ideas to a diagnostic coach, they put them to the test so that they can make sure they are worth the investment. Diagnostic coaches' careful analysis of situations can ward off most unpleasant outcomes, but mistakes still happen.

The challenge here is that diagnostic coaches can start to feel that everything is falling apart, and that they have to start questioning everything. This can have a knock-on effect on employees, who can in turn lose confidence and become risk-averse. When errors occur, diagnostic coaches should still try to get to the root of the problem, but remember not to be overly critical.

The good news is that any business is made up of many different skillsets and characters. There is a place for all coaching styles within the business and the important task for HR professionals is recognise these types and help them to smooth out the negative elements of their style while maximising the effect of the positives.

Phil Sheridan, MD, Robert Half UK